All the theory and note-taking in the world can’t prepare an education student for the reality of the classroom. There is increasing emphasis on involving schools in teacher education programmes run by universities and other higher education providers. It makes sense. What benefit could come from restricting an aspiring teacher’s learning to childless lecture theatres?
However, in the quest for more collaboration with schools, some countries, like England, are finding themselves leaning so far towards school-led training that tertiary providers are beginning to squirm.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s approach to teacher education has become increasingly collaborative between universities and schools, and to good effect. But are teacher trainees getting enough time in the classroom? Or do we need to be careful to protect the role universities play in training our future teachers, for fear of emulating the situation in England?
The situation in England
“Teachers need to be exposed to top-class academics – there cannot be a disconnect … especially when it’s at the expense of our next generation.”
In recent years the pendulum has swung more towards school-led teacher training in England, leading to large reductions in universities’ teacher training places.
The School Direct programme – a classroom-based training route into teaching – was established in 2011, joining a number of other initiatives that also favoured this approach. The London Challenge, for example, was established in 2003 to improve the performance of London’s schools by providing more professional development and support for teachers. Teach First is another well-known example.
While such initiatives appeared to have a positive effect on teaching quality, they did nothing to revive the dwindling number of teacher trainees.
The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, stated in Ofsted’s (the UK’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) annual report that the problem is no longer one of the quality of new entrants to the profession, but of quantity and distribution.
The number of teacher training applicants has dropped by 17 per cent in England over the past five years, putting the country seven per cent below the number of places needed in 2014/15.
Some believe that school-led teacher training programmes like School Direct are partly to blame. School Direct places are not spread evenly across the country and take no account of local demand, and there is no onus on schools to recruit the number of School Direct places they have been allocated.
The knock-on effect for university teacher-training providers is that they are unable to plan strategically or long term.
In a recent Guardian editorial, the University of Reading’s vice-chancellor, Sir David Bell, states that the education departments of many universities are finding it difficult to maintain their courses and retain staff due to uncertainty over future funding.
“I am all for creating strong and different training routes for teachers, but not at the expense of choking off the best BA-Ed and PGCE [postgraduate certificate in education] courses and driving them out of business,” he writes.
“We must never break the umbilical cord between education in schools and research in universities. Teachers need to be exposed to top-class academics – there cannot be a disconnect between the classroom and the advancement of knowledge, especially when it’s at the expense of our next generation.”
Findings of a review of initial teacher training, released earlier this year, support the views of Sir David Bell and other university vice-chancellors. The review found that the role higher education institutions play is critical and should not be rejected in favour of a school-led model.
In the foreword of the review, lead researcher Sir Andrew Carter writes that both schools and universities need to work together.
“Sometimes universities will take the lead; sometimes, and increasingly, it will be the schools that lead the way. However, neither can do it alone and our review has made recommendations that emphasise the strength of working together within a system that is increasingly school-led.”
However, the report states that it is difficult to determine whether one route into teaching is any more effective than another, as there are strengths across all routes.
“Universities can benefit from school involvement in commissioning, facilitating and disseminating research and other forms of development and enquiry. Similarly, schools can benefit from the expertise of universities to become research-rich environments, helping them to drive school improvement and impact positively on pupil outcomes and achievements.”
However, the review’s recommendation that the PGCE should be regarded as optional to qualified teacher status angered many in the university sector.
Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University told Times Higher Education that the recommendation “flies in the face of the evidence of high-performing countries like Finland”.
“The next government must make a clear commitment to university-led teacher education provision and to a teaching profession where professional and academic qualifications and professional development become the norm,” said Gunn.
The situation in New Zealand
New Zealand teacher education programmes are provider-led, meaning a teacher’s training is delivered by a university or other higher education institution. According to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), in New Zealand there are 25 providers of teacher training delivering about 146 programmes.
The programmes differ in nature. Some are more field-based programmes with more emphasis on practicum focus than others. Some teacher training establishments have formalised partnerships with schools; others have not. In general terms, teacher education programmes in New Zealand have shifted towards stronger and better partnerships between universities and schools in recent years.
The TEC states there is no requirement for formal partnerships between providers and schools. However the New Zealand Teachers Council (NZTC) expects all teacher education providers to have a strong relationship with the schools they send trainee teachers to for practical placements.
NZTC has clear expectations around the relationship between teacher training providers and schools, including how the relationship should be developed and maintained; ensuring the school understands the purpose of the programme; the school’s role in training the student teacher, and the school’s role in assessing the student teacher.
NZTC reviews all teacher training programmes every six years and conducts audits between reviews – usually every two years. The nature of the relationship between the teacher training provider and the schools it deals with form part of the review and audit.
A changing collaboration
The provider-school partnership is not a new concept, as Beverly Cooper, associate dean Teacher Education at Waikato University, points out.
“The importance of universities working alongside schools for effective initial teacher education and recognising school practice expertise has long been recognised in
New Zealand. Normal schools, for example, introduced in the 19th century were attached to Teachers Colleges – now colleges or faculties of education in universities.”
Cooper says Waikato University has always worked in partnership with its Normal schools and has more recently developed programmes that require student teachers to have longer term engagement with schools. Waikato’s Master of Teaching and Learning students spend the equivalent of two days per week for six months, followed by a full term in partner schools.
“Developing a shared understanding between schools and university has been a long-term and sustained process where lead teachers in schools and faculty staff meet regularly to discuss aspects of the programme and our lecturers spend time in the school context,” says Cooper.
Staff at Massey University’s Institute of Education believe there is a shift in the way providers are collaborating with schools.
“We also agree that our teacher education programmes are still university-led; that there is much collaboration with schools but that the nature of that collaboration is changing,” says Massey’s Dr Alison Sewell.
The new Master of Teaching and Learning programme at Massey University’s Institute of Education is a good example of how collaboration is changing with schools (see side article).
The University of Auckland’s Master of Teaching (Primary) is another, combining campus-based and school-based teaching and learning, allowing students to carry out their practical teaching experience with Learning Hub Schools.
Are teacher education students spending enough time in schools?
“…I cannot remember one trainee who didn’t feel that a lot of the time spent in lectures was ‘wasted’ and that the best learning was actually in schools.”
While universities are placing increasing emphasis on school-university partnerships in their teacher education programmes, John Morris of Morris Consulting, believes student teachers still need to be spending more time in schools.
In the Teaching Stars NZ Initiative report he co-authored with Rose Patterson, Morris makes the observation that New Zealand currently has a smaller number of hours allocated to actual practicum than most of the other OECD countries. The minimum requirement here is 14 weeks of in-school training, when international research suggests at least 20 weeks is optimal.
“I think there needs to be a balance between the theory that the universities clearly have strengths in and the practice of teaching, but I believe more time needs to be spent in schools.
“In my 20+ years as a Head in my end of practicum debriefs, I cannot remember one trainee who didn’t feel that a lot of the time spent in lectures was ‘wasted’ and that the best learning was actually in schools. There is an argument that the craft of teaching is best gained through apprentice-style training in classrooms.”
Morris points to a strong body of research that believes teacher training in universities is too theoretical. He says educational researcher Professor John Hattie believes there is no systematic evidence that teacher education programmes have any positive effects on the quality of first year teachers.
“There is a need to find alternative routes into teaching, especially for those entering teaching as a second career, and school-led programmes would be far more attractive to such people than a year at university.”
Morris praises the partnership between Macleans College in East Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington, which he describes as the closest thing to a school-led teacher education programme in New Zealand. The trainees are based at Macleans College and have access to Victoria University’s online Graduate Diploma in Teaching programme, including lectures and research, complementing their in-school learning.
There is also the Teach First programme, offered through The University of Auckland, which sees highly successful graduates fast-track their way through teacher education by teaching in low decile schools.
Finding the right balance
“In our opinion, both academic and professional work is essential to prepare teachers for the complexities of the job.”
However, despite his desire to see more school-led teacher education programmes on offer, Morris is keen not to replicate England’s approach to teacher education, which he describes as “a confusing landscape of varied quality programmes.”
“The situation in the UK seems to have got out of hand with many different new school-led programmes operating, as well as the traditional PGCE and older school-led programmes like GTP and SCITT,” he says.
Massey’s Institute of Education staff don’t think New Zealand is likely to emulate the situation in England.
“We don’t think we are at risk of tipping the scales too far towards school-led models and echoing the situation in Britain,” says Sewell. “What is important is not so much the question of who leads, but how a university qualification can be co-constructed more closely with schools in a co-leadership model. In this way, a university-school partnership ensures the development of teachers who are efficacious and able to meet the needs of each learner, most particularly the Ministry of Education priority learners groups.”
Dean of education at The University of Auckland Professor Graeme Aitken, having just completed a visit to four universities in the UK, has a good sense of the issues they are facing in England and how their approach to teacher education differs from that of New Zealand.
Aitken thinks New Zealand’s approach – university-led with genuine and monitored partnerships with schools in place – is better.
“My reason for suggesting that the balance is better in New Zealand is that schools are charged with the prime responsibility of teaching students – a critically important and difficult enough task without adding the requirement of being charged with the prime responsibility of also educating the next generation of teachers.
“They clearly have a critical and central role to play – and I am fully committed to meaningful, genuine and well-funded partnerships, as hospitals do in the educating of doctors – but it is unreasonable to expect them to come to terms, as leaders of the endeavour, with all that is entailed in preparing future professionals for teaching on top of their main mission,” says Aitken.
Waikato’s Beverley Cooper agrees.
“I think we have it about right in New Zealand,” she says. “Universities have been working very hard to enhance and develop partnerships with schools, which is the key to improving student teacher achievement.”
Cooper points out that the three and four-year programmes typically have a minimum of 20 weeks practicum mandated, and one-year programmes have a minimum of 14 weeks. Most Master of Teaching and Learning programmes are one-year programmes and have at least 20 weeks of practicum.
She says it is important to remember that teacher education in New Zealand also includes the first two years of teaching where a reduced teaching load (0.8 in year one and 0.9 in year two) and a formal induction and mentoring programme is a requirement.
Cooper believes teacher training needs to encompass more than is offered in school-based programmes. She says the attrition rate of new teachers who are prepared in school-based programmes is high.
“We believe that school-based models prepare people for site-specific contexts, rather than the wider role of a teacher,” she says. “These models are very dependent on skilled mentoring and the teachers who act as mentors having time to do this effectively.
“In our opinion, both academic and professional work is essential to prepare teachers for the complexities of the job. For student teachers to develop as agents of change and be truly reflexive and develop adaptive expertise to respond to individual students’ learning, they need to be aware of and develop the theoretical tools alongside the practical experiences.”
Waikato University conducted some research on its Collaborative University School Partnership (CUSP) programme for initial teacher education and found that the majority of pre-service teachers who had experienced CUSP placements and practicum in their first year felt it had played a vital role in their teacher education.
Massey’s Institute of Education probed this topic further and engaged in research, funded by Ako Aotearoa to develop and to document effective strategies that would facilitate the co-construction of an initial teacher education curriculum in a school-university partnership. In so doing, the project sought to make links between theories underpinning effective pedagogies, taught at the university, with the day-to-day practice of teaching and learning.
Sewell says one clear theme emerging from the research is the importance of building relationships between the school and university sectors to create a professional learning community with a focus on building knowledge together.
Another key finding is the importance of searching for and building on shared pedagogical knowledge, skills and values that each institution has and being clear about what each institution can offer.
The third – and perhaps most telling – finding is the willingness to share power and leadership within a university/school partnership.
The key appears to lie in acknowledging the value of the various elements that comprise a teacher’s education, and striving to incorporate them all without trading one off at the expense of another.
Different approaches to teacher education
Traditional: Lecture-based programme with teaching practicum incorporated
Emerging: More emphasis on teaching internships with lectures to support experience in the classroom.
School Direct: a UK classroom-based training route into teaching established in 2011.
London Challenge: established in 2003 to improve the performance of London’s schools by providing more professional development and support for teachers.
Teach First: international programme which sees highly successful graduates fast-track their way through teacher education by teaching in low decile schools.
New Master of Teaching and Learning
Following last year’s successful pilot, Massey University has launched its new Master of Teaching and Learning.
The 180 credit programme doubles the time devoted to clinical internships and community placements, in which students are supported by a school’s lead mentor teacher, a classroom-based mentor teacher, and a university supervisor and other university specialist teaching staff.
One of the programme coordinators, Dr Alison Sewell, says the new programme has adopted a ‘third space’ model for partnerships with seven local primary and secondary schools.
“These schools worked with us to co-construct key elements of the university-based papers, and in essence they are sharing the teaching and assessment
of these papers.
“This university/school partnership has forged strong professional relationships that have generated shareable knowledge that draws together research and practice knowledge.
“We believe this increased time in the field is essential to improve student teachers’ performance to the mastery of adaptive expertise required of teachers in 21st century classrooms,” says Sewell.
While the 27-strong foundation cohort, based at the Institute of Education at the Manawatū campus, is not yet halfway through the year, they say the amount of classroom time programmed into the course has helped them to feel at home in the school environment already.
Three of the students, who recently spent half a day at Palmerston North’s Central Normal School Te Kura Tuatahi O Papaioea – where three of their classmates have been placed for the past few months – spoke enthusiastically about their experiences of learning about teaching in a school, as well as the overall structure and approach of the new Masters programme.
The students spend three days a week throughout the year on practical experience in a partner school, with one day for theory and another for self-study.
Co-coordinator associate professor Sally Hansen says the Master of Teaching and Learning is taught collaboratively with partner schools and exemplary practice schools to provide high-quality teaching, learning and mentoring experiences in school, university and community settings.
“Some of the many distinctive features of this programme are: individual and small group mentoring; a diverse learning community in partner schools and at the university, and a community placement self-regulation to identify personal strengths and to customise learning needs.”
Cam Dow, who aims to be a secondary school teacher, says he’s appreciated learning about pedagogical theory then going back into the classroom “to see it in action”.
“Rather than doing class for months then going into the school for a short time and trying to recall everything, you can see it happening when it’s still fresh.”
Chanel Tamahaga says she likes the teaching style of the course, which veers away from conventional lectures.
“In class, our lecturers use all the different pedagogical methods with us that we in turn are learning about. It might be pair-share, collaborative, presentations or skits – learning like this helps us to solidify what works for us as teachers.
“The practical/theory balance of the programme was what sold me,” she says, adding that her placement at Freyberg High School has reinforced her decision to do the Masters in order to “be a teacher, make change, and to be a role model”.
She also loves working collaboratively with teachers and fellow students, and “bouncing ideas off other people”.
Dow, who did a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies and English, enjoys this aspect too, saying the collaborative nature of the university classes is more energising “than passively sitting there, taking notes”.
For Matt Costley, who did a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and who was previously employed as a youth worker, says learning about teaching by being in a school and developing a rapport with a mentor teacher has been hugely positive and affirming.
“It’s great how open the schools have been with us, and giving us opportunities,” he says. “It’s quite a big deal for us, especially because we haven’t necessarily done much in classrooms before.”
Tamahaga, who has a postgraduate qualification in Sport and Exercise Science and is of Tahitian and Niuean ethnicity, says she wants to use sport and physical exercise as a medium to help Māori and Pasifika pupils “improve the quality and quantity of their lives through sporting achievement”.
Dow says the programme’s focus on the inclusion of different cultures represented in classrooms – by acknowledging and learning about those cultures – is a core feature of the course and something he feels is vital for teachers in New Zealand’s changing society.
“I’ve really appreciated having my mindset adjusted,” he says. “Developing more cultural awareness has been really valuable to me.”
Ultimately, the appeal of teaching is witnessing that ‘light bulb’ moment for a young learner, he says.
Teaching music and drums one-on-one for five years gave him a first taste of the joys of teaching. “I really enjoyed getting that reaction when you see a student hook onto something and the light bulb goes off in them. Basically it [teaching] is all about trying to ignite that passion.”